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Good morning floral friends!

Spring has sprung out here on the west coast, and our coastlines and hills are bursting to the brim with the most gorgeous array of wildflowers I have yet to see in my lifetime. Wild mustard, California poppies, morning glory, lupin and purple nightshade all cover any stretch of open field or roadside they find fit to inhabit. The sheer amount of water we got this winter has made up for its harsh stormy nights and resulting road closures by giving us sheer joy in colorful, floral form. It is for this reason that today’s herbal profile introduces us to another beautiful wildflower, native to North America and used by the indigenous peoples as the original antimicrobial treatment for wounds, scrapes and other infections; the plant we will be getting to know today is Wild Indigo!

Bursting into beautiful yellow and cream colored blooms from May to June, this variant of indigo is found in the eastern United States, growing in prairies and meadows across the countryside. Native Americans used the plant for a number of health problems, such as snake bites, fevers, typhoid, and sores, giving it the reputation of somewhat of a cure-all by the time Europeans came to the continent. As modern science begins to investigate the health benefits of the herb, studies have begun to indicate what the indigenous peoples already knew- that Wild Indigo holds marked detoxifying and antimicrobial properties, and is an effective treatment for a wide range of infections, from acne to abscesses. Continue reading below to learn more about this beautiful, powerful plant!

Wild Indigo’s Traditional Uses

As mentioned previously, the Native Americans had used this herb for centuries before European colonization and indigo’s subsequent introduction to European medicine. Mohican and Penobscot tribes used a decoction of the herb to cleanse their wounds and cuts, and the Pawnee mixed the ground seeds with buffalo fat to make an ointment to put on babies’ bellies when they experienced colic. The transfer of this indigenous knowledge to European awareness can be found in the Western Medical Reformer of 1846, when Prof. John King highly recommends wild indigo for its antiseptic properties.

Wild indigo was brought into the ranks of traditional herbal medicine by Europeans, and assigned astrological properties and magical associations accordingly. The herb was considered feminine in its nature, and was associated with Venus. Thought to be a potent herb of protection, herbal magic practitioners use wild indigo in wearable charm form like pouches or necklaces, or plant it around the home for general protection.

Identifying Wild Indigo 

Wild indigo, or Baptisia tinctoria, is an upright, shrub-like plant that is perennial in nature, and typically grows anywhere from 2 to 3 feet tall. The herb can be found in open woods and fields, stretching from Maine to Florida and inland to Minnesota. Small, bright yellow to cream blossoms occur form May to June, sweet-pea-looking flowers in multiple clusters that grow on the stems that extend up above a mound of stalkless, clover-like, gray-green leaves (the shrub-like part of the plant). Once the flowers have bloomed, small inflated seed pods occur on the stems, and darken when ripe. Seeds rattle around in the pods at this point, giving wild indigo the common name of rattleweed.

Missouri Botanical Garden’s website has an excellent blurb on growing wild indigo that I’d like to share here for all your gardeners out there: “Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best in full sun. Tolerates drought and poor soils. Over time, plants form slowly expanding clumps with deep and extensive root systems, and should not be disturbed once established. Difficult to grow from seed and slow to establish. Plants take on more of a shrubby appearance and tend to open up after bloom. Light trimming or shearing foliage after bloom helps maintain rounded plant appearance and obviates any need for support, but eliminates the developing seed pods.”

Healing Attributes of Wild Indigo

Wild indigo’s key actions are antimicrobial first and foremost, and secondarily detoxifying and immune-stimulating. The medicinal value of the plant is found in its root, which can be best taken in tincture or capsule form. The recommended dosage hovers around 2-4 grams a day, and maximum 30 grams a week. Wild indigo is one of those herbs that are not meant to be taken internally for extended periods of time, due to its potency- only use the herb for about a week unless otherwise advised by a medical or herbal practitioner. Take a peek at the list below to see how to use wild indigo to address a variety of health issues and problems!

  • Throat infections: use a diluted tincture first as a gargle, then swallowed, once a day for up to a week.
  • Acne: use the diluted tincture as a nightly facewash until improvement is noted.
  • Boils + abscesses: apply a poultice of wild indigo root to the inflamed area, leave on for up to an hour.
  • Wounds, scrapes, cuts: a tincture of wild indigo should be used topically on the affected area once it has been cleaned with warm water.
  • Fever: a capsule of indigo taken daily, or 2-4 grams of tincture taken once a day until the fever is reduced.

Wild indigo is often used in conjunction with Echinacea to treat acute infection. Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers should avoid wild indigo, and it should not be consumed in large quantities, as it can be toxic in large, concentrated doses.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about wild indigo with me! I hope you found this article to be helpful, and if you have ever worked with or used wild indigo medicinally before, please share your experiences in the comments below– I love hearing about personal experiences with the profiled herbs!

Light and lemon thyme,

Katharine